2021 Yearender: Major events that shaped Egypt this year

Ahram Online , Friday 31 Dec 2021

The year 2021 has been an eventful one for Egypt. From the launch of landmark government programs, to more economic reforms and an impressive showing at the Olympics, Ahram Online offers a brief glimpse into the most notable events of the year.

File Photo: A view of the human-headed sphinxes along the 2,700-metre-long road leading from the Temple of Luxor to the Karnak Temple. AFP

Avenue of Sphinxes reopened

Egypt reopened the over 3,000-year-old Avenue of Sphinxes in Luxor in a ceremony in the same style of the Pharaohs Golden Parade that impressed the world in April. 

The inauguration of the avenue, which connects an ancient quay on the Nile with the first pylon of Karnak Temple, marked the launch of a major campaign to promote Luxor as one of the world’s largest open-air museums.

Cairo International Book Fair

After being delayed for six months due to coronavirus, Egypt managed to hold a successful edition of its largest book fair, the Cairo International Book Fair, from 30 June to 15 July.

The 52nd edition of the fair was held at Egypt's International Exhibition Centre, with 1,218 participating publishers.

The edition was not only held under anti-coronavirus health measures, it also saw the introduction of a digital ticketing platform for the first time ever, where visitors were able to book their tickets for free beforehand.

Damietta LNG plant back to business

After an eight-year hiatus, the Damietta liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant has re-opened, and two cargoes were shipped by the Italian energy company Eni in February, the main shareholder in the facility. The LNG cargo shipments represented an important milestone in implementing an agreement on the plant reached in December, settling disputes that had led to its closure in November 2012.

The Damietta LNG plant, which has a production capacity of 7.56 billion cubic metres of gas per year, is a key part of Egypt’s strategy to grow its natural-gas exports and emerge as a regional energy hub by expanding the country’s ability to export liquefied natural gas to European markets.

Decent Life takes off

The first conference on the rural-focused Decent Life initiative kicked off on 15 July at Cairo International Stadium under the auspices of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who announced the launch of the first phase of the national project.

With overall investments amounting to EGP 700 billion, the project aims at improving standards of living, infrastructure and services and targets the 58 percent of Egypt’s 102-million population, who live in 4,658 villages across the country.

Egypt’s best Olympics performance in seven decades 

Egypt enjoyed an Olympics to remember
, winning six medals in its biggest ever tally despite a ban given to its weightlifters over doping offences. The country surpassed its five-medal haul in 1936, 1948 and 2004, making this the best Olympics performance for Egypt in over seven decades.

Karate athlete Feryal Abdelaziz became the first-ever Egyptian female to win an Olympic gold medal, and fellow karateka Giana Farouk delivered the bronze. Ahmed Elgendy became the first African to win a modern pentathlon medal after clinching silver, Hedaya Malak and Seif Eissa won a bronze medal apiece in taekwondo, and Greco-Roman wrestler Mohamed 'Kesho' El-Sayed also won the bronze in his Olympic debut.

Feathers wins big

The Egyptian film Feathers (Reesh) by Omar El-Zohairy premiered in July at the 74th Cannes Film Festival (CFF), winning the Grand Prize of the Critics' Week (Semaine de la Critique), and is the first film from Egypt to garner such high recognition at Critics’ Week. The film also won the third prize of the International Federation of Film Critics in the same festival.

The film’s success at the CFF was followed by several other accolades including the best Arab Feature at El-Gouna Film Festival in October. Only a month later, the film won four awards at the 32nd Carthage Film Festival in Tunisia.

Entwining social problems with a pinch of satire, Feathers’ plot focuses on a family which is “forced into a period of self-discovery after its authoritarian patriarch is accidentally turned into a chicken by a magician during a children's birthday party,” reads the film’s brief.

First-ever Egyptian female judges

On 19 October, for the first time in the country’s history, 98 women were sworn in as judges in Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The swearing-in came months after President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi called for allowing women to join the State Council and the Public Prosecution, two judicial bodies that were exclusively male.

Gaza’s ceasefire mediation  

Egypt led international efforts to establish a ceasefire on May 21 after 11 days of clashes between Israel and Hamas. The Israeli aggression on Gaza began following clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli police in occupied East Jerusalem. The protesters were demonstrating against the Israeli Supreme Court's decision to evict seven families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood

Egypt also led the efforts to reconstruct Gaza, which has been exhausted by the Israeli siege since 2007 and multiple Israeli assaults that have killed thousands, injured tens of thousands, and caused the almost complete collapse of Gaza's infrastructure.

Giant ship Ever Given grounded and refloated in Suez Canal

Navigation in the Suez Canal resumed after the successful refloating of the 400-metre-long, 224,000-tonne container ship Ever Given, which had blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week. The ship accidentally ran aground in the busy waterway, blocking the passage for hundreds of ships and causing huge financial losses for the canal.

Green bonds issued

Egypt issued its first green bonds in the private sector, which were issued by the Commercial International Bank, on 30 June. The private placement is valued at $100 million in non-callable fixed rate bonds.

IPO programme resumed

The government has resumed its initial public offering (IPO) programme, which had been stalled because of the pandemic. The state-owned e-finance for Digital and Financial Investments – Egypt’s first fintech platform and one of its leading developers for digital payment infrastructures – was put on the Egyptian Exchange (EGX) in October for the first time.

In December, the government listed an additional 10 percent of Abu Qir Fertilizers' shares with a total value of EGP 2.2 billion, making it the second state-run company to be listed in 2021.

Libya's reconciliation

Egypt’s efforts to reach a permanent and just reconciliation between Libyan factions began to bear fruit in 2021. Cairo hosted the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, which resulted in the formation of joint security committees between the east and west of the country to secure Sirte and open the coastal road.

Politically, Egypt supported the consensus government led by Abdul-Hamid Al-Dbeibeh, its decisions to establish an independent electoral commission, and the release of a large number of figures from late president Muammar Gaddafi's regime within the framework of national reconciliation.

Egypt backed all international conferences that aimed to achieve comprehensive reconciliation in the neighbouring Arab country, notably the Berlin, Rome and Paris conferences.

Cairo also hosted the leaders of the Libyan tribes and supported their good offices for reconciliation in the south of the country between Awlad Suleiman and the Qadhadhfa.

Gigantic Mummy Parade

Egypt held the whole world under its spell with the lavish Pharaohs Golden Parade, which involved the transportation of 22 ancient royal mummies through the streets of Cairo on their last journey from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in Fustat on 3 April. This took place after Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi inaugurated the NMEC earlier that day.

A ceremonial 21-gun salute was performed upon the arrival of the royal mummies at their new residence after a 45-minute journey from their decades-long residence at the Egyptian Museum.

Opera House at new capital steps onto the scene

The New Opera House made its entry to the cultural scene through numerous events throughout 2021, the latest and most significant being a historic concert by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Riccardo Muti in November.

The concert marked the opening of the opera’s 1,200-seat concert hall, one of several state-of-the-art venues on the premises. Prior to the opening of the concert hall, the opera held inaugural concerts at its drama hall, while its main hall with the capacity of 3,5000 audience and groundbreaking technical solutions, is yet to see its launch during 2022.

The opera is part of a large City of Arts and Culture complex built at the New Administrative Capital. Rich in cultural buildings, the complex includes a conservatory, a ballet academy, a library, the oud house, and other important cultural and educational institutions.

Return of Russian tourists

Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh International airports received the first flights coming from Moscow after almost six years of suspension of direct flights from Russia to the Egyptian Red Sea resort towns.

Rights to Naguib Mahfouz’s works sold

In a deal that ended Dar El-Shorouk’s exclusive rights as sole publisher of Naguib Mahfouz’s works since 2005, Diwan signed a deal in December with his family to buy the rights to his complete works. The deal gives them exclusive rights to publish the works for 15 years.

Oum Kolthoum Mahfouz, the daughter and only remaining heir of the prominent Egyptian novelist, signed the deal wit  Diwan Books. The new editions are expected to be made available in May 2022. Diwan said that they will form a committee to revise his novels and short stories.

In October, Hindawi, a non-profit organisation, signed a deal to publish Mahfouz’s works digitally for free.

Second phase of economic reform

Egypt’s has government launched its second phase of economic reforms, which mainly focuses on executing structural reforms across all sectors. The second wave of reforms was backed by two loans Egypt secured from both the International Monetary Fund ($5.4 billion) – which were received in June 2021 – and the World Bank Group ($360 million).

State of emergency revoked

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi announced on 26 October that he would not be extending the national state of emergency that had been in place for the past several years. 

"Egypt has become, thanks to its great people and loyal men, an oasis for security and stability in region. So, I have decided for the first time in years not to extend the nationwide state of emergency," the Egyptian president said at the time.

Sukuk approved

Egypt is set to issue its first batch of sovereign bonds (Islamic sukuk) during the second half of the current FY2021/2022. The House of Representatives gave the go-ahead for sukuk bills in June, which the cabinet had approved in November 2020.

Shutdown of Iron & Steel Co

Egypt initiated its strategy to liquify state-owned companies that operate under the umbrella of the Ministry of the Public Business Sector, whose losses significantly exceed their revenues. The iconic Iron and Steel Company was liquidated in January and divided into two separated companies.

In November, Minister of Public Business Sector Hisham Tawfik revealed that the government has a plan to liquidate five losing state-owned companies, without naming them.

Thanaweya Amma grades back to normal

For the first time in three decades, no students in Egypt’s local high school system, Thanaweya Amma, were able to achieve a grade of 100 percent. This year, only 20,190 students scored higher than 90 percent in their GPA, compared to over 90,000 students last year.

The education minister said this year’s exams were “the first real tests to evaluate understanding, application and analysis,” following a shift from the culture of memorising for exams. Scores in the competitive nationwide exams determine which university and faculty students can attend, if any. 

Changing the way high school students are being tested and marked is part of a larger plan to reform education in Egypt, which is set to be fully implemented by 2030, replacing the country's traditional culture of memorisation for tests with one focused on student-centred teaching and competency-based learning for life.

World Handball Championships

Egypt earned wide acclaim from most of the teams who took part in the 27th Men's Handball World Championship after hosting a successful, trouble-free tournament despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The country staged the World Championship from 13 to 31 January in an expanded 32-team version that presented a real challenge to authorities amid a second wave of the pandemic.

The Pharaohs came in seventh, their best position since their fourth-place finish in 2001, while Denmark, who ousted the Pharaohs 39-38 in the quarters following a marathon game and a penalty shootout, were crowned world champions for a second straight time after defeating Sweden 26-24 in the final.

Egypt introduced the COVID-19 Medical Precaution Plan, which included a full bubble concept with hotels exclusively reserved for participants.

Zero tolerance for bullying people with disabilities

Egypt's parliament approved in October a legislative amendment that toughens penalties against bullying people with disabilities.

According to the amendment, those convicted of bullying a disabled person can be sentenced to one year in prison and a fine ranging from EGP 50,000 to EGP 100,000. If bullying is committed by one of the victim's relatives, or one of those responsible for their care or upbringing, or those who have authority over them, the penalty can be increased to up to two years in prison and a fine ranging between EGP 100,000 and EGP 200,000.

Penalties can be doubled for repeat offenders.

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